Columbus Day was celebrated last month in both Spain and the United States, so it seemed like a good time to talk about some of the similarities and differences between these two different cultures that I am currently a part of.
I was surprised that both Spain and the US celebrate the same holiday. This possibility had never occurred to me. Well, of course, holidays like Christmas and Easter are shared across borders as Christianity is found around the world. But how strange it is that two other countries share a national holiday and that it’s even celebrated at the same time!? And what are the odds that I’m a part of both? I’ve gotten used to celebrating country specific holidays, such as Italy’s end of fascism, Spain’s day of the constitution, and the US’s day of independence – holidays that wouldn’t make sense to celebrate in any other country. It wasn’t until I remembered who sent Columbus on his fateful voyage that I connected the dots. It is clear why the US would honor the person who ‘found’ the country, but it never occurred to me that Spain would also honor Columbus. Spain doesn’t even hold any territories in the Americas anymore! Of course, once I thought about it, it is only right that Spain would venerate the person who started the movement that led Spain to have the largest empire at that time.
There are differences between how holidays are celebrated. In Spain, Columbus Day includes events that celebrate the glory of Spain. There is a parade of the army after which the King greets them. From what I have been told by my Catalan roommate, however, is that most people actually dislike this practice. Only the most patriotic citizens are in favor of it. She says that patriotic displays remind most people of the dictatorship of Franco. Since the Catalans were particularly oppressed, they are especially against this patriotism. A second complaint is typical to all citizens everywhere: the parade costs too much money for little return!
In the US, we always observe Columbus Day on a Monday and often now the holiday is not even observed. Instead everyone works as usual. In Spain, Columbus Day is always celebrated on October 12th. Since it falls on a Tuesday this year, Monday is also a de-facto holiday. On Tuesday, almost everything is closed, very similar to Sundays. Monday, because it only links the holiday to the weekend and is not a holiday itself, is not observed in the same manner. Most people don’t have work or school. However, some people work and more stores will be open. The same phenomenon is found when Columbus Day falls on a Thursday; Friday will become a de-facto holiday. Unfortunately, as the holiday falls on a Wednesday next year, the only day off the Spaniards will get is Wednesday.
This is a very different mentality than the US. Since I have been here, we have already celebrated three holidays. The first was La Mercé, which is the major festival of Barcelona. There were so many activities I couldn’t attend them all. There were the procession of the giants (Gigantes), the fire run (Correfoc), the human towers (Castellers), live music, performances, etc. Columbus Day (Hispanidad) was the second holiday, and All Saints Day was the third. To me it seems that the Spanish take any excuse to have a holiday that they can!
A roommate in Barcelona from last May shared this newspaper article with me. Basically, it says that Columbus had stayed in the same apartment as we lived in! I’m sure many people have claimed this, but this story has the added benefit of being written by a historian.